The 5 Crucial Steps to Finding the Right (and Real) Influencer for Your Brand

Don’t Waste Your Money

Photo by Chad White on Reshot

We live in an era where influence is just as valuable a currency as cash. The person who captures an audience and cultivates a following and loyalty can affect perception, decision-making, and even drive societal change. However, you can always rely on the fact that fool’s gold will exist amongst the riches, and it’s tantamount that hotel marketers know the difference. Recently, I wrote at length about how to determine whether influencers are faking it.

Let’s say an Instagram influencer contacts you. They request a pile of your products with all the trimmings in exchange for a few glossy Instagram posts and a review. Maybe they’ll throw in a Story for good measure. Now, multiply that by a hundred, and we’re probably reflecting your day-to-day reality where you field dozens of requests to determine whether the investment is worth it.

Kate Jones, marketing and communications manager at the five-star Dusit Thani in Maldives, fields at least six requests per day via Instagram direct message. Influencers are getting craftier about getting attention:

Tran told me a story about a trip to the Bahamas with a friend who covered her breasts with two slices of pizza, took a photo, and posted it as a Domino’s paid partnership. “Domino’s flagged it and removed the post, but then later reached out and said it’d be cool to collaborate in the future.”

The vetting process can be overwhelming as it involves factors such as validation, brand alignment, and unpredictable ROI. How do you know if the investment is worth it? How do you determine which partnership is worth pursuing?

We’re sharing five steps to ensure that you’re picking the right partner to bring to the party.

Step 1. Define your audience

Always keep your ideal guest in mind when engaging with an influencer. Know your customers’ demographics, psychographics, wants, needs, lifestyle preferences, habits, and behaviors. Your data will give you rich insights into the guests you want to attract, and when you’re looking for influencers, you’re searching for a mirror of that guest. If you sell $2,000 handbags, you wouldn’t want to partner with a budget blogger, regardless of the size of their audience. If they don’t influence your ideal customer, you’re wasting money.

Your influencers have to be a natural extension of your ideal customer because you’re leveraging peer-to-peer influence to validate your brand and offering.

Step 2. Know the channels

Think about where your prospective customer is finding inspiration and information, e.g., Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook groups, blogs, and podcasts. You want to ensure that your influencer has power on the channels in which your ideal consumer resides. It’s smart to “spread the seed” — i.e., have influencers spread across digital channels, so you have a higher chance of reach and SEO link building. In short, don’t only partner with Instagram influencers. Work with tastemakers who have a presence (s) across platforms. It’s okay if you don’t have a strong presence on Pinterest or YouTube, for example, just as long as you have a destination to which you can point them. The goal is to get prospects to your owned channels.

Step 3. Vet them like you’re a CIA operative

Set aside the bot factor for a hot second, because it can be distracting. When it comes to vetting influencers, you should care about three things:

  • Brand alignment: You want to make sure that the content the influencer programs and publishes aligns with your brand personality and vibe. You also want to dig deep for any watch-outs or content abnormalities that could reflect poorly on your brand. Consider last year’s scandals centering YouTube beauty powerhouses, Laura Lee and Jeffree Star, both of whom lost advertisers and brand partnerships as a result of old, cringe-worthy content that resurfaced.
  • Audience health and viability: In Steps 1 and 2, we talked about how important it is to partner with people who reflect your ideal customer. You not only have to ask for data regarding their audience composition, but you also need to understand their engagement rates. For example, if you ship only in the U.S., it might not make sense to partner with someone whose audience is composed of 90% of followers who live outside the U.S.
  • Past campaign performance: Evaluate with whom the influencer has partnered in your industry as well as other industries, and how the content and campaigns performed.

You can use a full-suite service like Sylo to vet and analyze influencer campaign performance.

Step 4. Partner with people who bring BIG ideas to the table

Let’s be honest. There’s a lot of “sea of same” influencer campaigns out there. The room service tray overflowing with a lavish feast of buttered croissants, fluffy eggs, freshly squeezed juice, and sliced fruit — check. The pensive selfies while centering your product in the frame — check. The outfit photo shoots where your products serve merely as a fashionable prop — check. — the images, while gorgeous, are increasingly ubiquitous. It’s like coming to medium and seeing the same Unsplash photos used over and over again.

Your brand has a unique story, and your influencers should not only be participants in that narrative, but also creative storytellers themselves. How can they bring the unique aspects of your brand to life? How can they share the story of their experience in a way that will awe their audience? Do they want to push the limits of their imagination or collect checks?

As a marketer, you have options. Partner with influencers who are a natural extension of your brand and have creative stories to tell.

Step 5. Marry the influencer and their audience

Consumers crave consistency, and they cleave to long-term relationships. Switch intent is costly and exhausting, and as long as you continue to deliver on your promise, you’ll lock in your most avid fans. The same concept goes for influencers. Evaluate the efficacy of their campaigns and the ease in which it was working with them. Notice if they’re partnering with every brand on the block or if they’re loyal to your brand. Register how often they promote sponsored content and partnerships and their audience’s reception. In short, you want to work with discerning, consistent, and loyal people. Why? It reduces the risk of new partnerships and related costs and headaches, and it communicates a strong bond between influencer and company. For example, check out how L’Oreal’s success with locking in long-term campaigns with tastemakers. Learn more about the pros and cons of long-haul engagements.

If the influencer converted and they were easy to work with, why not extend a longer-term engagement? If their fans are loyal to them, and they’re loyal to you, why not participate in that advocacy?

A version of this article appeared in Storified Hospitality Group. Subscribe to my email list.

This story is published in The Startup, Medium’s largest entrepreneurship publication followed by +428,678 people.

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